Lack of regulation makes vapes more dangerous than cigarettes


Vaping-related deaths surge in the U.S. Photo credit: MCT Campus

By now we’ve all seen that guy: turning a corner in a Midori-green Scion, cracking open the driver’s side window to squint through reflective Oakley sunglasses, a floating head in a black beanie emerging from vanilla Smok clouds pouring out the window. 

I’d put it at around 2014, when I first started noticing vaping become normalized. At first it was strange to see someone bring something so bionic-looking up to their lips. Until then, it had always been a delicate, paper cylinder, loosely wrapped and perched between two fingers. When I started seeing more and more people with them, I thought, Huh, like that hookah pen a friend got me when I was 19. That device was ridiculous too, but not as much as these robotic, mouth-wands! I remember thinking.

Then came the cries of, “It’s just water vapor,” and “It’s chill, dude! Want another hit?” I wondered, was it just “water vapor”? It sounded to me like nicotine addicts appeasing themselves until the next hit. And the next. And the next. And the next.

Then, the vapes hit men’s fashion runways in 2016, polished and peeking out of a model’s grasp. If you aren’t looking, you can easily miss them. Some, like the Juul, are smaller than a USB. Celebs-a-plenty could be seen taking a drag at various indoor events (we see you, Leo). And marijuana was about to be legalized in California (Lord knows we would need it for the next few years), leading to easier CBD and THC intake. Smokes all around!

And here we are, October 2019 and with 18 vape-related deaths confirmed in 15 states, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. California is leading the nation in lung injury cases (not deaths), also according to the CDC. With vaping as the common denominator, approximately 530 cases of a strange lung disease, like a rare form of pneumonia, have swept the U.S. recently.

But isn’t it just water vapor? Turns out, it’s not. Instead of producing tobacco smoke, e-cigarettes produce aerosol, which actually is made up of fine particles. It is in these tiny particles that toxic chemicals are found, in varying degrees of course, and which are related to respiratory diseases, cancer, and even heart disease. Well, that was easy to debunk!

Smokers, however, are somewhat demonized. It’s a bad habit, yes, and every smoker should quit sooner than later, but smoking is currently more regulated than vaping. The fact that one has to go outside to smoke a cigarette is a regulation in and of itself. It corrals all the smokers into a big smoky holding pen, like cattle releasing methane burps into the atmosphere. When a smoker needs a puff, they’ve got to get up and announce it. (Then all the non-smokers begin to judge.) In this way, I would argue that smoking is now safer than vaping.

On the contrary, many vapes are getting smaller and thus, easier to hide. Companies that produce vape products actually market their devices as “easy to conceal”. The Juul, like mentioned above, is smaller than a USB. That means they can easily hide in hands, pants pockets, and pencil pouches—all places children frequently put their belongings. Myriad others look strikingly like fancy pens. Some are clearly marketed toward those assigned male at birth and others are so femme they could be in the Too Faced makeup display at Ulta. The attractive packaging and flavored e-juices clearly used to entice consumers is unethical. Did America learn nothing from flavored cigarettes, which were banned so long ago? I guess not!

 We all know vapers tend to vape with abandon, hence the kung-fu-movie-like clouds they envelop themselves in. It is apparent that there are little to no regulations or a culture of critical thought surrounding vaping. Another egregious result of this is that vaping has become a huge problem in schools. Before, little Joey had to save up his lunch money to buy a pack of smokes and smoke them behind the bleachers. Now, vapor can be easily concealed in a classroom or on campus. Juuls in particular release little to no vapor while delivering concentrated amounts of nicotine. I have taught high school students who have told me firsthand that other students were vaping in their English class. The vast majority of those recently afflicted with vape-related lung diseases have been young people. Sure, you have to be 21 years old in California to buy a vape, but it’s the same for cigarettes and we should all know by now kids have ways of getting things they’re not supposed to have. In fact, many affected by the recent surge of vape-related injuries have been those under 21.

With the lack of government regulation and especially the lack of a critical culture surrounding vaping, it is no wonder the habit has resulted in unidentified lung diseases and even death. What this tells us is that the American government hasn’t learned from the past. Let’s make sure next time our leaders have enough sense to do the research necessary and enact regulations on for-profit companies before the death and disease happens.